When someone in a GroupMe chat asked if anyone wanted to attend a presentation about mental health on campus, another person promptly responded with, “Sorry, I’m not crazy.”
Two things ran through my head. One: bad joke. Two: Is the negative stigma surrounding psychiatry so pervasive that “mental health” and “crazy” are now interchangeable terms?
You’d expect students at one of the best institutions in the world to be more accepting and responsible about their health and wellness, but I think that’s exactly why the issue is especially ubiquitous at places like this. Getting into Yale requires immense sacrifice during the most vulnerable phase of our adolescence, which is not without mental and physical costs. I have friends here who claim to have gotten three hours of sleep a night in high school. Others talked about having weekly mental breakdowns, cracking jokes like it was an afterthought.
The euphoria of opening a Yale acceptance letter is ephemeral; poor mental health is long-lasting. I suppose it’s too late to take preventative measures, but that’s why I urge people to acknowledge and care for themselves while we’re here.
I understand the apprehension. Yale as an institution perpetuates this toxic stigma and discomfort of addressing mental health crises on campus. I know people here who live in fear of having their diploma stripped from them for being a little too mentally unstable. It’s unethical, alienating and a perfect example of a universal “brush under the rug” mentality regarding mental health disorders. We live in a place where the perfect student archetype is valued over our mental health, and imperfect students are dispensed lest they taint the school’s pristine image. Yale students aren’t perfect — nearly a quarter of students are currently enrolled in a class on how to be happier.
The Yale Health website advertises same-day to next-day appointments as long as you call in advance. However, it takes significantly longer for Yale Mental Health & Counseling to process a request. The mere nature of this waiting-time discrepancy reflects the disparate measure of legitimacy associated with physical health versus its psychological counterpart.
This isn’t just a Yale problem, though. So many people criticize Yale Health like it’s a sport. Yale’s mental health services may not cater to the most impatient, and Yale Health diagnoses may sound like they’re cited from an outdated Mayo Clinic article, but at least we have this service available for us. Yale is cognizant of our needs, regardless of how long it takes to address them.
Yale’s response to mental health is reflective of a much larger issue about stigma. It’s hard to find a college meme that doesn’t allude to a mental health issue, hiding under the guise of an attempt at relatable humor. Being academically successful and having mental health issues are expected to be mutually exclusive. How can you really be suffering if your GPA doesn’t warrant concern? People who have great families and a big circle of friends aren’t supposed to be depressed or have social anxiety. Pretty people can’t possibly have body dysmorphia or an eating disorder. A calm person declaring anxiety and panic disorders is unconvincing and fake. If they have a disorder that doesn’t align with their image-based expectation, they are dramatic, self-centered and weak.
I think that so many people on campus have this “just get through this semester” mentality, and that’s incredibly sad. The semesters at Yale will fly by, and then you’ll be thrown out into the big and scary world with not only the same persistent mental health issues but also an immense feeling of regret. We only have eight semesters at Yale surrounded by a network of supportive peers, faculty and services — all of us need to acknowledge that, take advantage of it and cherish each of our days here.
Mental health is a complicated topic. But I think that’s why we should open up the dialogue, regardless of how scary or controversial it may seem. Attend a mental health and wellness panel. Meditate. Go in for a consultation. Ask someone how their day was and actually listen. Maybe we can erase this mental health stigma, one mindful act at a time.
Allison Park is a first year in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .